Obama Miscue Strains Relationship With Israel

During the recent G-20 summit in Cannes, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was overheard calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a liar to President Barack Obama. Unaware that his microphone was still on, Sarkozy told Obama, "I cannot bear Netanyahu, he's a liar.” 

According to the reporters who overheard the recorded conversation in a separate location, Obama then responded, “You're fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you”

Although the comments were not initially reported — journalists considered them off the record — they still managed to find their way into French blogs like Arret Sur. Obama’s and Sarkozy’s misstep will inevitably heighten tension between the two western nations and Israel, but the remarks could have been worse. Considering Netanyahu’s disregard for these countries, this is just an example of how he has grown in unpopularity among other world leaders. 

The current administration has yet to make a statement about Obama’s remarks, yet they are not denying what he said. This minor embarrassment now leads to questions about Obama’s diplomacy skills and whether he has the best interest of Israel, one of the U.S.’s closest allies, in mind. With the upcoming presidential election, Obama is feeling the pressure on all sides. Facing the intense glare of the public, his critics and GOP opponents are looking for any weakness to chip away at his chances of remaining in office.

Republicans are using the situation as a means to attack Obama’s stance on foreign affairs, claiming his words aggravate strained ties between the U.S. and Israel. The incident serves as another confirmation of the already tense relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, who has repeatedly ignored Obama’s attempts to broker peace between the warring Middle Eastern nations.  

Obama’s devotion to Israel is not as absolute as his predecessor Bush's was, but rightly so, since he has always tried to be balanced in his dealings with either country. However, Netanyahu’s issues with Obama predate his election. It is speculated that the bad feelings stem from some pro-Palestinian leanings Obama may have had while a professor in Chicago.

There was even slight tension between Sarkozy and Obama. During the same off-the-record conversation, Obama criticized Sarkozy for not warning the U.S. that the French would vote in favor of Palestine joining UNESCO. If the contested nation joins, it could cause problems with the U.S. providing funds to the organization.

Things are only made worse by Iran’s nuclear testing and the possibility of Israel attacking their facilities. Netanyahu has made it no secret that he is willing to attack Iran if given enough reason, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threats that Israel should be “wiped off the earth” could be just that. The ticking time bomb is the last thing the Obama wants to deal with on his watch, doing anything possible to ensure that things do not escalate during his time in office.  Nonetheless, Obama will now have to put in work to smooth over this fallout, treading lightly when dealing with the hotheaded national leader. 

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